Ukrainian Evacuees Facing Daily Challenges in Japan

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Ukrainian students cook traditional borscht soup and other dishes for Japanese people in Dazaifu, Fukuoka, in December.

To mark the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, The Yomiuri Shimbun asked 50 Ukrainian evacuees living in Japan about their physical health and the kind of support they required. Some reported ongoing psychological effects caused by the war and many spoke of such challenges as learning Japanese and difficulties finding employment.

Panic disorder

“I’ve been able to live a safe life since coming to Japan, but I still can’t feel relaxed,” said a 25-year-old Ukrainian woman who arrived in July and stays in Katsushika Ward, Tokyo.

Fighter jets flew overhead her southern Ukrainian hometown, Zaporizhzhia. After seeing a neighbor’s body, she developed a panic disorder triggered by fear of imminent death.

Even now, she reports feeling severely distressed when she hears loud sounds such as fireworks, and trembles when planes fly overhead. The woman receives weekly counseling.

A 32-year-old from the eastern city of Dnipro, developed a panic disorder that was triggered by air-raid alarms. After evacuating to Osaka she found work as an English teacher at a kindergarten last autumn. However, she feels extremely anxious when she hears the sirens of emergency service vehicles and other such sounds. She also worries about whether she will be able to adapt to life in Japan, among other issues.

Language barrier

As of Feb. 15, there were 2,185 Ukrainian evacuees living in Japan. Many evacuees struggle with the Japanese language.

According to an end-of-year survey conducted by the Tokyo-based Nippon Foundation on 750 Ukrainian evacuees, 47% of the respondents said they hardly speak or understand Japanese.

A 50-year-old Ukrainian woman staying in Taito Ward, Tokyo, worries about her only son. The 10-year-old has been attending a local elementary school since May but does not speak Japanese and finds it difficult to make friends and keep up in class. The boy has suffered stress-related seizures. The woman said her son needs extra support to learn the local language.

Ukrainian evacuees receive housing and financial assistance from their municipal governments, but many are increasingly concerned about not being able to find a job.

A 24-year-old evacuee living in Gyoda, Saitama Prefecture, said she receives considerable support, but is nevertheless increasingly suffering from stress due to uncertainty about the future. She has found it difficult to find employment because she does not speak Japanese. “I need an income to live,” she said. “I’d like to find somewhere where I can work without speaking Japanese.”

According to the Immigration Services Agency and other bodies, Ukrainian evacuees live in 46 of the nation’s 47 prefectures — Ehime Prefecture being the sole exception. In Ukraine, men ages 18 to 60 are not allowed to leave the country in principle, and 74% of the evacuees who have entered Japan so far are women. Of the 1,849 Ukrainians who switched their visa status to allow them to work in Japan, only 264 had found a job as of November.

Kindai University Assoc. Prof. Megumi Kuwana, who specializes in humanitarian assistance, said: “It’s essential to provide the evacuees with careful support such as mental care and help with learning the language. Municipalities need to share their know-how to reduce disparities in support and allow the evacuees to live with peace of mind across Japan.”